The U-537 made the only armed German landing on North American soil in WWII.
U-537 left Kiel, Germany on September 18, 1943. She made a brief stop in Bergen, Norway and headed out to sea again on 30 Sept. The boat went on patrol in the western North Atlantic under Kptlt. Peter Schrewe. Its task was to set up an automatic weather station on the coast of Labrador. U-537 carried a scientist, Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer, and Wetter-Funkgerät (WFL) number 26 (the sixth in a series of 21 such stations) manufactured by Siemens. It consisted of various measuring instruments, a 150-watt Lorenz 150 FK-type transmitter and ten canisters with nickel-cadmium and dry-cell high-voltage batteries.
On October 22 U-537 arrived at Martin Bay at the northern tip of Labrador. For the next 48 hours U-537 lay at anchor while the crew manhandled the 220-pound canisters, along with a tripod and mast, into rubber boats and then onshore. The weather station was set up 400 yards inland on a 170 feet high hill. At 5:40 P.M. on October 23, having ensured that the station was functioning properly, Schrewe weighed anchor and set off for an anti-shipping patrol off Newfoundland. His patrol was uneventful and on December 8 U-537 returned to Lorient, France.
Reports indicate that the weather station sent out normal transmissions for a few days, but then there was apparent jamming on that frequency (about which nothing is known; no evidence has yet turned up that the Allies learned about the equipment).
U-537 was transferred to the Far East and sunk with all hands on board in late 1944 - only Dr. Sommermeyer and crew member, who had left the boat prior to the its transfer to the Far East, survived the war.
Another weather station in Labrador planned - In July 1944, the U-867 reportedly set out from Norway to erect a second weather station in Labrador but was sunk en route by RAF planes.
The station was a secret known only by a handful German seamen and scientists. The story became known in the late 1970s, when an engineer named Franz Selinger after his retirement from Siemens decided to write a history of the German weather service. Among Dr. Sommermeyer's papers he found photographs of one weather station and a U-boat that did not fit in with the eastern Arctic installations he had previously been able to identify (Greenland and Svalbard). He identified the Labrador coast, but neither Canadian nor American authorities could provide evidence. Via Jürgen Rohwer and the son of Dr. Sommermeyer he then identified the U-537 and located the logbook at the archives in Freiburg.
In 1980 he wrote to the official historian of the Canadian armed forces, WAB Douglas (who has written an article in MHQ). Douglas and the Canadian Coast Guards were able to go and look and actually found the remains of the weather station. Some parts were missing, but the canisters, tripod and mast, and some dry-cell batteries was left to identify.
Strategic considerations were now overtaking furs as the prime activity in the north. New aircraft were being flown to both Britain and Russia, and these air lifts reqwuired both refuelling stations en route and reliable weather forecasts. The air route to Britain was across Labrador and/or the north (Greenland-Iceland-Scotland), so air fields were being built at Goose Bay, Churchill, Southampton Island, Fort Chimo and Frobisher Bay (now Iqualuit).
Much of the weather affecting these flights originated in the high Arctic, but reporting from the few posts up there was at best, spasmodic. Furthermore, they could only report surface weather. Reporting high altitude conditions required special equipment and balloons to take it up.
In 1942, some very hush-hush weather stations, particularly at Arctice Bay, were established by the Americans, which Canada took over the next year. Of course the people and gear had to be taken up there and resupplied and since the Nascopie was dropping by there anyways, would she mind...?
The secrecy was largely wasted. During the war, a German submarine eased into the Labrador coast and erected an unmanned weather station. The thing sat there for over forty years until somebody tripped over it and called the Canadian government.
Weather reporting formed a vital part of German military operations. Given that weather systems generally move from west to east across the Atlantic, it was imperative that U-boats at sea enhance the reporting net of surface ships and shore stations by radioing data to BdU as frequently as possible. [BdU - Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander U-boats); Admiral Karl Doenitz]
Some missions consisted almost entirely of weather-station patrols, either at the beginning or at the end of tactical missions. In support of these wide-ranging and highly mobile patrols, Germany built 21 land-based automatic weather stations that would provide specific data at predetermined transmission times. Fourteen of these unmanned stations were established in Arctic or subarctic regions (Spitzbergen, Bear Island, Franz-Joseph-Land and Greenland); 5 were located around the Barents Sea above Norway, and 2 were destined for North America. Only the first of those bound for North America, and planned for delivery by U-537 in the summer of 1943, was ever in operation. The second mission failed when U-867 was sunk NNW of Bergen on 19 Sep 1944.
BdU charged U-537, on its maiden operation voyage in the summer of 1943, with the installation of automatic station WFL-26 [Wetterfunkgeraet-Land] on northern Labrador. Code-named station "Kurt", it consisted of a set of meteorological instruments, a 150W short-wave transmitter and antenna mast, and an array of nickel-cadmium and dry-cell batteries. The station was packaged in ten cylinders approximately 1 x 1.5 m diameter, each weighing approximately 220 pounds. The cylinder with the instrument unit contained a 10-m-tall antenna mast with anemometer and wind vane. In order to avoid suspicion if discovered, the Germans had marked the cylinders with the rubric "Canadian Weather Service". As it happened, the fact that no such organization existed by that name did not compromise the plan, for WFL-26 was not discovered and identified as German until July, 1981.
Once installed as designed, the station would broadcast a coded weathergram at three-hour intervals. To accomplish this, a sophisticated contact drum or Graw's diaphragm (named after a certain Dr. Graw, then of Berlin) would transcribe the observed values for temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction into Morse symbols. These were then keyed on 3940 kHz to receiving stations in northern Europe. Transmission time for the whole weathergram, including one minute for warming up, did not exceed 120 seconds.
The choice of site for WFL-26 seems to have been left largely to [Kapitan] Schrewe's discretion in consultation with the technical advisers. In order to avoid all possible contact with people ashore, especially with Eskimoes trekking south at this time of year, Schrewe wanted to set up the station as far north in Labrador as possible. At 18:45 on 22 October, 1943, he anchored in Martin Bay, some 300 m from shore in position 60 degrees 4.5 minutes N by 64 degrees 23.6 minutes W.
Within an hour, a reconnoitering party set ashore by inflatable craft to locate a transmitter site. They would leave empty American cigarette packages and match folders on the site in order to decoy any subsequent Allied intruders. By 18:00 on 23 October, less than 24 hours after having anchored, the work was done. The first transmission of WFL-26 occurred 3 minutes late, but was otherwise technically perfect.
Throughout his Canadian patrol, Schrewe continued to monitor WFL-26 and on a number of occasions reported intense jamming by a station that turned out to be German.
For reasons we can only surmise, Canadian stations heard nothing from "Kurt" in Labrador.
On 18th September 1943, the U-537 (IXC40 type) of captain Peter Schrewe sailed from Kiel to Bergen (Norway) with a particular cargo: there was in fact on board Professor Kurt Sommermeyer, a scientist specialized in meteorological equipments, together with two assistants of his. Sommermeyer was put in charge by admiral Canaris for the installation of a special automatic station for atmospheric surveys, to be placed in a fit position along the western coast of Labrador. This device – a Wetter-Funkgerat (WFL) built on purpose by Siemens – was at that time a state-of-the-art patent. Produced only in 21 units, the Siemens device – provided with a 150 watt Lorenz 150 FK type transmitter, powered by 10 boxes of dry nickel-cadmium high voltage batteries – could have been able to report in large advance (through transmitted radio impulses) the weather conditions of the north-west Atlantic area to all the U-boots heading to that zone. On 9th October, once provisions and bunker were loaded, the U-537 left the base of Bergen and – after a fairly good trip – arrived on the 22nd October at Martin Bay, at the northern end of Labrador, cautiously remaining underwater to avoid bad surprises.
Sommermeyer, helped by one assistant and ten seamen, loaded onboard four tenders the device's dismounted and packed components. They waited for a providential bank of fog and soon afterwards the flotilla covered the 300 meters to the dry land. The U-boot's crew on the bridge was on the alert – ready to enter in action with the 88 mm gun and the Vierkling four-gunned machine (20 mm) – as the area was covered by Anglo-Canadian air patrols and the danger to be spotted was very high. The Germans managed to unload and carry the 100 kg Siemens' machine on the top of a rise. There, the technicians assembled, tried and camouflaged it and came back to the submarine. The whole operation lasted about four hours. As per the instructions received, captain Schrewe waited underwater for 24 hours, to be sure about the correct working of the transmitter. On October 23rd, at 17.40 hours, the U-537 sailed on the route to Lorient, where it landed on 8th December.
Even though this mission was carried out successfully, the Germans never took advantage of this installation: the station in fact worked and transmitted only for a few days, then fell silent definitely.
|Laid down||10 Apr, 1942||Deutsche Werft AG, Hamburg|
|Commissioned||27 Jan, 1943||Kptlt. Peter Schrewe|
|Commanders||01.43 - 11.44||Kptlt. Peter Schrewe|
|Career||4 patrols||27 Jan, 1943 - 31 Jul, 1943 4. Flottille (training)
1 Aug, 1943 - 30 Sep, 1944 10. Flottille (front boat)
1 Oct, 1944 - 9 Nov, 1944 33. Flottille (front boat)
Sunk 9 Nov, 1944 in the Java Sea east of Surabaya, in position 07.13S, 115.17E, by torpedoes from the US submarine USS Flounder. 58 dead (all hands lost).
This page is located at
Updated: April 2, 2005